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Hola – plans v reality…

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We knew there would be rain in Spain one day… Just not this much!

The planning for our trip to Andalucia started a while ago.

The initial thinking was to head over there in October 2016, but thoughts changed and we ended up visiting Herefordshire and Somerset.

The thinking started again back in November 2016 and a simple plan was drawn up – fly in and out of Malaga from either Leeds/Bradford or Manchester airports and take a look at the Picasso and other art connections in Malaga before heading to Seville, Cordoba and Granada and then head back to Malaga for the flight home.

This was expanded upon by getting hold of both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide paper guidebooks to Andalucia. Although I’d already taken a read through the LP and RG books on Spain, the area specific guides provided more insights to the cities we were intent on visiting and useful snippets regarding travelling times between cities by bus or train, eating out, flamenco and a few tips on speaking Spanish.

Flights and our hotel in Malaga were booked via Expedia whilst digs in Seville, Cordoba and Granada were booked via booking.com.

All of this happened back in November 2016, as did upgrades to the basic flights as we chose to pre-book seats on the plane in both directions and opt for priority boarding.

Yes, this put the price of the flights up, but we reckoned it was worth it as a means of getting settled in to our seats and as a means of ensuring that our hand luggage wasn’t stashed in the hold instead…

The decision to use buses rather than trains in Spain came down to two factors – cost and journey times (which in one or two cases quoted in the guidebooks were shorter on the bus rather than the train…).

Booking the buses was left until January and it has to be said that booking buses between Malaga and Seville, Seville and Cordoba along with Cordoba to Granada was pretty easy via the http://www.alsa.es website.

A problem did arise when it came to book the journey between Granada and Malaga. My UK bank card had been used for the first three transactions, but wasn’t being accepted for the one that would take us back to Malaga in readiness for the flight home.

Technology being what it is, a web chat was established with Alsa and it transpired that I should have used a Spanish bank card or PayPal for all of my ticket buying transactions!

As the first three sales had gone through without any difficulties and I had both printed off the online tickets and the ones sent to my email address, I decided to press on for the fourth transaction and book it via PayPal.

The problem being that I hadn’t used PayPal for years and couldn’t remember what my password was. That took a bit of time to resolve, but hey presto! That last set of tickets was bought, paid for and printed off…

With all of the flight, accommodation and almost all of the internal travel sorted out, there was a couple of things left to do – book tickets for our visit to The Alhambra in Granada and sort out transport to Manchester Airport.

Tickets were easily booked and paid for via The Alhambra’s website and that was almost it.

Next up was the booking of rail tickets and we almost came unstuck.

We were travelling on a weekend when there was planned maintenance on the railway line. Although the website showed this, it didn’t tell us the full nature of the replacement bus service operating on our day of travel.

After three attempts at finding out, it was time to jump in the car, head to a mainline station and ask questions. Once answered and the printouts handed over, the tickets were bought and paid for and that was it for two months.

When March came around, all we had to do was get some notes, check the mid-range weather forecast and go…

There was however one small problem left – neither of us speak Spanish!

The right guide?

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Which guide is the right guide for you?

There’s a whole lot of reading going on, largely because the weather around wisepacking towers is not that condusive to heading out, no matter what clothing/footwear is being used at the time…

There’s four paper guidebooks and two language helpers on the desk in readiness for our next trip and a new one on the Kindle section of my iPad too (this one’s a brand new revision of an existing title and I haven’t as yet found anyone selling the new paper version…).

The four on the desk are from Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness whilst the new Kindle on the iPad is a Pocket Rough Guide.

Why four books and why are they from different publishers?

That’s all to do with getting a more rounded picture of the places we’re going to as each has its own take on the cities and what there is to see and do. As you can see from the above photo, there’s a lot to be said for hanging onto old editions of guidebooks as these can provide further information as certain stuff may be mentioned in one edition of said book, but not another, even though the sight or establishment is still operating….

These guides from the big names are being complemented by a set of city guides in Kindle format from the Atsons and Unanchored series of eBooks or those produced independently by the authors themselves..

Some have been paid for whilst others have been free downloads, but all are being read to get more information and yes, there have been some good tips that are being noted and stored for use on the ground when we hit the cities we’re going to as a means of ensuring that our euros go that little bit further by not resorting to big name eateries for drinks or snacks.

At the moment, all of the main guidebooks are providing good information in a very readable format, something that is a great improvement on our findings when researching the various trips to Portugal.

Rough Guides were our favourites on these trips in either full country or Snapshot/Pocket Rough Guide formats. These paper tomes were used in conjunction with info gleaned from Julie Dawn Fox’s books on Portugal and Porto along with tips from Julie’s website – https://juliedawnfox.com

You may wonder why I favour paper books over techno books…

1) Because paper books are easier to read on the hoof.

2) The indexing is usually much better in paper books.

3) They don’t require charging up at regular intervals.

4) They’re more discrete to look at when out and about.

5) Sections could be copied or cannibalised from the main book, especially if you’re going to one town, city or area for a few days or a couple of weeks.

No matter what the information in the books, the format or who the publisher is, there’s one aspect that’s never left out or forgotten about – using our eyes and ears to discover places, events or eateries.

We’ve spotted posters on noticeboards about museums, stumbled across eating places, taken river trips or found interesting shops by just following instincts and heading off in what turned out to be the right direction…

Although I’ve just bought that new Pocket Rough Guide for the iPad, it’s only going to be used as a guide on a forthcoming trip.

Although the booking has been done, what we do when we get there is largely going to be made up as we go along. There’s a couple of daft ideas floating around, but whether they come to fruition is another matter…

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Not in a guidebook, but the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum was found after seeing a poster on the wall at a campsite washing up area…

What’s in the pockets?

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Langdale, Lake District, U.K.

News from the BBC News website regarding a multi-pocketed jacket to stash tech in whilst travelling or going about your daily business…

May pass on buying one though as I usually find a jacket with four pockets suffices as my wallet, keys & change are usually in zipped trouser pockets.

The other factor I would take into account is the amount of tech I take with me – a dumbass phone, a four year old basic Kindle and a basic Nikon point and shoot digital compact camera.

That’s all I need as I’ve found electronic guidebooks aren’t as user friendly as their paper counterparts (in full, photocopied or surgically reduced formats).

I have Kindle versions (and other format electonic guidebooks on my iPad Mini and my desktop), but I still prefer paper guidebooks.

What’s on the Kindle then? Travelogues, biogs, ‘how to’ books and the occasional novel too. Nothing too heavy though – I read to relax rather than fill the brain with stuff it doesn’t need!

The above pic is a reminder of where I used to read three books a week either in the pub or the tent after days out on the hills.

That link to the Beeb?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38527350

One year – September 2015 – part I

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Liverpool John Lennon Airport after dark from the Hampton by Hilton

Yes, we had another trip to Portugal in September 2015 and it was a combination of bus, train and another bus that saw us arrive at our hotel at Liverpool John Lennon Airport for a night before another early morning entrance into the terminal building across the road for our flight to Lisbon.

As we were travelling easyJet from Liverpool to Lisbon on hand luggage only once more, it was interesting to arrive in the hotel foyer as a family were trying to get up to their room.

Yes, we had our trusty Osprey packs, but this lot had so much luggage that the top case on the trolley was higher off the floor than the top of the head of the bloke trying to push said trolley in the direction of the lift.

The Sunday morning stroll across the road and into the airport may have been an early one, but breakfast had already been served in the hotel, so once we got through the fast track security process and into the airside catering area, it was time for more coffee.

As we’d taken the same flight a couple of months beforehand, we knew what the score was and where we should wait before the screens flashed up our gate number. This ensured that we were through the gate and heading to the plane in no time and seated before most of the other passengers had even joined the queue at the gate. Smug? Us? Maybe…

We also knew what to expect when we got to Lisbon. Off the plane, bus to the terminal, passports checked and then the long walk from passport control into the land side.

As we already had some euros, there was a quick right turn in the direction of the Metro station, a short wait in the queue to get a couple of Viva Viagem travel cards recharged with enough credit for the few trips we were going to be making on the Metro around Lisbon at the start and end of our trip and then it was off to Rato Metro Station.

No, we weren’t going back to Lisbon Dreams, we were heading to Casa Oliver, a boutique guest house overlooking the park at Principe Real. Our arrival at the park meant that we had some time to kill – at lunchtime.

Fortunately we’d eaten at Esplanada, the cafe in the park before, so a table was grabbed, drinks and food ordered and both were consumed in a suitably relaxed manner as befits Sunday lunch on the first day of a fortnight away.

As our check in time for Casa Oliver wasn’t until 3pm, we still had time to kill, so we adjourned to another cafe for coffee, very good lemonade and a little bit of reading too…

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Cafe, lemonade and Kindle in the park – and Caroline too!

Now when I’d booked Casa Oliver, I was under the impression that it was room only and that no breakfast was available. When we checked in, it became apparent that breakfast was available and that it was €10 each. As we had a train to catch the following morning from a station that we didn’t know, breakfast was booked as a time saving measure.

The early start to the day and the lunchtime beer & wine started to kick in, so after a siesta and a shower, it was time to change, have a walk and then find an evening meal. It was Sunday evening, but the streets were busy with others wandering around in search of food, drink or friends.

Whilst it was tempting to find somewhere new to eat, the familiar surroundings of Ristorante da Vinci in Rua Jardim do Regedor beckoned us to sit, eat, drink and do some people watching whilst we were at it.

Beer, fresh orange juice, a bottle of San Pellegrino, a lasagne and a filling calzone came, were seen and were conquered in a relaxed fashion before €33.15 settled the bill for another meal taken in what has become our favourite eating place in Lisbon.

Yes, there’s a Hard Rock Cafe nearby and a Starbucks around the corner at Rossio Station, but as the staff, food, ambience and coffee have always been good at Ristorante da Vinci, we’re happy to go back there and to write about it too.

After a reasonably good night’s sleep and a light breakfast, we headed off back down in the direction of Restauradores Metro station in search of Santa Apolonia station in search of our train to Porto.

Which we found almost as soon as we hit the platform area at Santa Apolonia. After more coffee, we hit the station’s Pingo Doce mini-market.

The intention was to get some bread rolls, some cheese, some cooked meat, some canned fizz and a couple of bottles of water to have for lunch on the train. We may have booked first class tickets at a reasonable price, but even we prefer to buy food off the train rather than on on it.

As I’d sorted my food needs out quite quickly, I took a look at what else was available as we were due to be doing some self catering once we got to Porto and found Rivloi Cinema Hostel, our base for the five nights in Porto.

As I wandered past the fresh meat chiller cabinets, my eyes glanced down and noticed a few packs of meat that brought back memories of a 1970’s number one record.

There were a few packs of freshly skinned rabbits in the cabinet and whilst there was no fur in sight, I started to sing a song that summed up what had been left behind by the store’s meat prepping team – Bright Eyes

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This was the calm after the storm in Porto… more on Wednesday!

New books and sparkies…

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Yes, it’s Tavira again – one of the first pics to appear on wisepacking.

Most of the morning has been taken up in going back for the future.

No, I haven’t taken delivery of a DeLorean, but I have been going back to the roots of wisepacking and looking at early posts from 2014.

Little did I know how it would develop. There have been a few hiccups, but I wouldn’t have guessed that visitors would come from all over the globe.

I expected views from the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and others from the usual suspects, but I didn’t expect views from Nepal, Turks & Caicos, Trinidad & Tobago, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, Qatar, American Samoa and South Sudan.

The reason I’m going back to wisepacking’s roots is simple – there’s a work in progress which involves taking a look at what I’ve written over the last two years, updating it, editing and ensuring that the spelling is in English English rather than the American English that my word processing software keeps trying to correct it to…

Some 15,000 words are in the document file and I suspect that the end result may be around three times that word count.

The plan is to publish a Kindle book when the backpacker travel season kicks in and to update/upgrade or remake/remodel when necessary.

It’s just a short posting today as there’s a sparky (electrician to the uninitiated) coming along to look at the house lights after a problem occurred on Saturday afternoon.

We’re not dancing in the dark, but wandering around upstairs is being done carefully pace the sun’s gone down. Fortunately we have a street light out the front, so leaving the blind open on the landing helps overnight.

We’re not going to have power or indeed Wi-Fi later on, so the writing is done for now, the email needs to be checked and the Kindle pulled out when the power goes off.

One year – May to July packing

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Rohan’s Cool Silver t-shirt – worth its weight in gold?

As you may have noticed in the pieces so far in the One year series, there is a common denominator in the postings related to the posts on our travels in May and Junes 2015, but it’s hardly mentioned at all in the posts about the trip to Lisbon in July.

We know how much stuff can go in the back of a Skoda Fabia when the seats are down, but anything we took along on the Somerset trip had to be packed around Betty BikeCaroline’s trusty touring/commuting cycle.

Betty’s sturdy and took up more room in the car than we thought, so packing had to be on the minimalistic side, which is why we took small bags with us and shopped locally when we got to the apartment we’d rented for the week.

There were a few luxuries though as I’d shoved a few DVDs into a carrier bag in case we felt the need for some televisual entertainment and I’d also decided to take along my DLSR as well as the usual Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera.

As the weather was destined to be changeable according to the advance forecasts, a couple of micro fleece zip necks (TNF and Craghoppers) were packed into my Karrimor holdall along with a pair of Peter Storm soft shell trousers, a couple of Rohan’s Cool Silver t-shirts and a couple of the same brand’s Essential t-shirts, three or four pairs of Rohan Silver trunks and a few pairs of M&S dress socks.

With that lot in the bag plus a pair of Merrell shoes and a pair of Brasher sandals, that was about it apart from a couple of travel towels plus my wash kit, meds and Kindle.

The bag wasn’t full and could be easily squashed into any gaps around Betty Bike once her front wheel had been taken off in order to get her into the back of the car.

Caroline was also using a Karrimor holdall, but her clothing mix included  travel clothing from either Rohan or Royal Robbins and a few bits of Endura, Altura and Tenn cycle clothing too.

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Your starter for Tenn – great shirt for cycling or daywear…

Did we take the right kit with us? We certainly did. The only pieces that haven’t been mentioned so far are the Berghaus and Nike waterproof jackets we took along or my TNF hooded soft shell. Only the waterproofs were used to protect the innocent…

Anything else? Well we did some shopping at the Rohan shop in Dunster, but that was for a few items that were required for the Lisbon trip that we’d decided to take a few weeks later. Even at that stage, Caroline and I had plans for Europe, unlike some who have been in the news over the last few days – allegedly!

As the visit to North Norfolk in June was a short one and Caroline wasn’t taking Betty Bike, we didn’t really need to pack much given the advance forecasts and the relaxed nature of this trip.

So it was a scaled down packing list compared to Somerset – the clothes we were wearing plus three t-shirts each, socks and undies, a spare pair of trousers and the usual travel towels, wash kits, meds and Kindles. The DLSR was left at home in favour of the Nikon and that was it.

Or was it? Well no, not really as Caroline was planning on hiring a bike whilst we down in Norfolk, so her bike clothes, helmet and gloves were also in her Karrimor bag.

And so to Lisbon via a night drive to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and a late arrival at the Hampton by Hilton hotel as Caroline had spent been at a family wedding.

Baggage choices? Our trusty Osprey Farpoint 40s as we were travelling hand luggage on easyJet.

And the contents? A security friendly travel wash bag that had been bought for the journey. It was originally full of predominately Gillette travel products, but a little pruning and replacement ensured that the new contents covered all eventualities.

The disposable razor and small tube of toothpaste were retained, but in went a plastic cased Dove roll-on instead of an aerosol. That was followed by my Slim Sonic Toothbrush, a bottle of Lifeventure Fabric Wash for the clothes, 100ml of Lush’s Flying Fox shower gel, a small bottle of tea tree oil, a similarly sized King Of Shaves shaving oil and two small bottles of Nivea Factor 50.

As before, my usual prescribed meds, yellow Warfarin book and repeat prescription forms went in along with a pack of indigestion tablets and a few sachets of recovery powder (just in case there were too many glasses of vino collapso imbibed over the course of a day…).

Worn items included Salomon ventilated trainers, a pair of Rohan Goa trousers, one of four Rohan Core Silver t-shirts (the rest were in the bag along with a couple of Rohan Element t-shirts).

Why so many t-shirts? As good as all of these shirts are, expectations of 30+ C meant that for once I was playing safe and wearing two shirts per day rather than one. I did however regret not having a couple of polo shirts as smarter options as we were eating out so much over the course of the week.

Rohan Cool Silver trunks and suitable socks completed the worn outfit and yes, there were spares in the bag of these. Other packed items included another pair of Goa trousers, my Nikon Coolpix and charger plus my Kindle and charger, a newly purchased Rohan Stowaway Daypack 20 and a travel towel. Oh, and a copy of Rough Guide‘s Pocket Rough Guide to Lisbon plus a pair of Next espadrilles for sock free days or nights out…

Caroline packed a couple of Rohan Serene vest tops, a Rohan Malay Linen Plus top and a few other  items from their travel linen range.

Footwear choices were a pair of Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes and a pair of Merrell sports sandals. Her day bag was a Rohan Stowaway Daybag 3 that held her passport, camera, travel wallet, tissues, sun cream and a small bottle of water.

Washing was done before we went out and left to dry on hangers next to the windows once the clothing had been rolled up in a travel towel to squeeze out excess water.

The Rohan Goa trousers were just right for the trip thanks to a lightweight fabric that washed and dried quickly, two zipped pockets to take wallet, camera, reading specs and guest house keys.

Out of all the things we took along with us, there was only one piece of kit that required a rethink. I’ve no doubt that the Rohan packable day sack will come into its own, but I have to admit to making a personal wrong choice by using it over the first few days in Lisbon. It was a bit too big for what I wanted to carry around and I ended up buying a small cotton bag that sufficed for the rest of the week.

Coming up next – One year – August 2015.

London, Lonely Planet and a tube strike!

One year – July 2015 III

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It’s Wednesday and it’s a rest day around Lisbon

Now we couldn’t just do nothing, but we had a lie in, a chat with fellow Brits about Lisbon and then we headed out for a wander around nowhere in particular.

The Botanical Gardens appeared to be a good place to start this day of wandering aimlessly. We paid our money, headed in and I decided to indulge in a spot of photography whilst Caroline explored the gardens.

Which was a nice idea, but my Nikon had other ideas. Fortunately my camera hadn’t died a death (which was the fate of my Lumix in 2013 and the reason why I’d bought the current Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera in Lisbon a few days later).

I’d checked the battery on Tuesday, but it was now as dead as a dodo so that potential hour of photography became another chance to read from the Kindle as I waited for Caroline to show up. The slow day was a good idea as it gave us the chance to just see what took our fancy as we headed through Principe Real, through Baixa & Chiado and onwards to Rio Tejo.

Nothing was planned. We wandered in and out of shops, had coffee, had lunch and just relaxed rather than haring off like Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales. The information centre shop sold me some stationery items and a cotton shopping bag that could be stuffed into my day bag – Portugal had adopted plastic carrier bag charges, unlike England at that moment in time…

There were several drinks stops as we combatted the high temperatures with fruit juices, Coke Zero and Sagres Radler beer plus the obligatory bottle of water in our day bags.

After a relaxing day, we had a plan for Thursday as we’d decided to head to Sintra. An enquiry at the ticket office revealed that we could use our Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards on trains to Sintra, something that we weren’t aware of at that time…

Siestas were declared on return to Lisbon Dreams then showers and a quick change happened before we went to The 39 Steps for our evening meal. The outdoor eating option was taken once more, drinks arrived and food was ordered, but unfortunately we didn’t expect an unexpected cinematic reference to occur.

I’d had a very good pasta and salmon main on our first visit to The 39 Steps, so Caroline ordered this for her main this time whilst I went for something completely different.

When the meals arrived, it looked like Caroline‘s order had been lost in translation. Instead of pasta with salmon, pasta with shellfish was placed in front of her.

Our waitress was very, very apologetic about the error, but Caroline decided to tackle the staring shellfish head on as it were rather than having to watch me eat my meal as she was waiting for her ordered meal to arrive. C’est la vie as the French say…

Thursday saw an early start and boy were we pleased when we got to Rossio Station and zapped our Viva Viagem cards at the barriers in front of the platform for the Sintra train. There were queues at both the ticket machines and manned ticket windows – long queues.

Once in Sintra, there was a choice to make of where to go first. We walked down to the Palacio Nacional, had coffee and Caroline paid a return visit this palace and then Quinto da Regaleira with its main building and impressive gardens complete with terraces, grottoes, fountains and the Initiation Well (which comes complete with its own entrance via a revolving stone door).

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Palacio Nacional, Sintra

Whilst Caroline took a look at both of these impressive sights, I wandered around with a fully charged camera. The Toy Museum had closed its doors, so I took to the streets, explored the various alleyways and tried to avoid the midday sun….

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Two views of Sintra…

As you may have guessed, I’m not one for museums, palaces or elaborate gardens. Caroline is and we have a mutual understanding that I’ll find something else to do whilst she’s off exploring historical places or galleries.

If there’s a museum dedicated to cars, flight or an exhibition on music or rock photography, I’m there like a shot, but if it’s historical, I’m with Rudge’s view on history as expounded in a memorable scene from The History Boys.

The quote’s a good one, but given that this is a free site without age restrictions, it can’t be quoted here!

Yes, I have an O level in History, but that’s from 42 years ago and my views on the subject have changed somewhat and I’m more interested in more modern history rather than what went on in days of yore…

Caroline enjoyed both Palacio Nacional and Quinto da Regaleira and was full of enthusiasm for both when we visited a very quiet outdoor cafe cum art shop on the way back into the centre. The town was quiet as we walked back to the station and so was the train, a welcome experience as the train had been crowded on the way to Sintra.

The return to Lisbon Dreams was equally quiet and as we’d had rather a good lunch in Sintra, we raided the mini market for bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for our evening meal. Rustic? Yes, but a fine way to end a grand day out.

And finally – Part IV. Museums, Os Tibetanos, the inspiration for Casino Royale and wine tasting in Cascais…